The bath I enjoyed that evening was possibly the finest experience of my whole time at the Margo Marissi, and I had a lovely shave to follow that made my head look considerably more civilised. I might add that the shaving was performed by a delightfully nubile and pretty thing dressed in what was almost a red gown. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have heard the rumours of the sapphic delights on offer to those well placed within the Mazzerine order. I could have spent a damned sight longer in private contemplation, imagining such an event from every conceivable angle, but I had dinner with an old priest that I simply could not avoid.
Dried, powdered, and slightly distracted, I made my my towards the dining area, and by all the gods, these priests and monks spared no expense in making sure everyone knew they were chosen of Pelo his holy self. In the waiting area alone was an eight foot tall harp, that was playing itself! Such a mechanical wonder of science had to be seen to be believed, and since none of you were there – unless Valerius is reading this, correcting my grammar and tutting because he thinks he’s taller – there really is no point in going into detail. In fact, I think it best if I sum up all the events of the evening succinctly; describing the taste of food that you I ate decades ago seems like a waste of all of our times.
The broad strokes then: Fjorlief seemed to be doing her best to offend our host, but was also oblivious to everything she was doing. At one point, she actually leaned forward and took some food from the Patriarch’s plate, smiling as she did so, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I was trying to mask my own experience of fine dining, doing my best to look ignorant of the uses for half the cutlery sat in front of me. Luckily, that left the other half that I was genuinely clueless about. I decided to play it safe and stick to a simple three tined fork, using it for everything and avoiding the soup.
Thankfully the Pelosians seem to have developed a culinary habit that means all of their food arrives at the table in mouth sized chunks, so I was able to just wipe the fork off between courses, and carry on regardless.
More impressive than the Hutzlunr’s lack of good graces, was Caderyn’s self control. He got the through the whole meal without leaping across the table and stabbing the Patriarch with his own fork. In his defense, I think the Pater was doing his best to appeal for a reasoned debate on the way forward for both sides in the conflict, but he never quite managed to do so without sounding like a condescending arsehole.
It’s difficult to see the conflict from either side without both of them looking pretty awful. Atrocities have been committed on both sides, and just because the partisans hid behind the story of defending their homeland didn’t make the way they treated the citizens of the Margo Marissi any easier to stomach. And here was a man thinking about how to end the war, but never about leaving these people in peace; blaming the continuation of war on sin and the rapaciousness of mercenaries, without ever stopping to think about how the conditions in which they thrive had been created along the bloody border.
He left well enough alone when he realised that he wasn’t getting anywhere with Caderyn, and turned the conversation onto the slightly more palatable topic of the conditions of our voyage. Here I was happy to turn to Valerius, he had spent more time in the region and could talk from experience of past years. I had barely been there a week, so just enjoyed the food and the spectacle of Fjorlief eating it.
My ears pricked up at the mention of that Hutzlunr bastard Thorgrim the Difficult though. I was happy to interrupt then, going on at great length about killing one of his named men in single combat before finding and sparing the second. I may have embellished somewhat during that tale, making out that Caderyn had pretty much single-handedly left the hatchet wielding maniac barely able to stand, but the poor guy wasn’t having the best of time and I thought that making him look good may have cheered him up. Sadly, looking back, I’m fairly sure that I was speaking in Pelosian to the Patriarch, and he would have missed pretty much everything. Ah well, he may not have wanted to admit it, but when he was speaking, an occasional word of Pelosian was sneaking into his patois.
It was an odd thing to see happen, and it’s only really when looking back that it seemed obvious at all. At the time, we were just adjusting to conversations taking place in several tongues, where a word was difficult to translate into another language. I saw an occasional smile when talking about the third story man, that Valerius had decided to spare seconds before my blade slit his gullet open, so he must have been able to at least pick up a choice rude word or too.
The rest of the meal was small talk and little else; I did manage to get a good word in for the supposed Bajo out in the cells, but after letting the Patriarch know everything that had happened, I decided on honesty as my best course, letting the priest know that it was highly likely the old fellow was a conman and thief, but if he was also a Bajo, I was duty bound to speak in his defense. Said speech lasted roughly 17 seconds and was delivered with a purposefully blank expression. Come the morning, I was able to tell the old chap that I had done everything in my power, and that he would surely soon be free. The poor sod looked grateful at that.
That was the morning though, and we had still had dessert to look forward to. It was brought in by half a dozen each the equal of my hairdresser in terms of loveliness and how revealing their outfits were. It was all I could do to look on without my pleasure being made obvious, but the Pelosians at the table were obviously not used to such sights. Valerius simply appeared slightly shocked, but poor Skuza looked ready for a fainting spell and was nervously adjusting himself beneath the table.
The hour was late by then, and the decision was made to spend the night in relative comfort, something I was greatly in favour of. Some of the others though chose to return to the wagons and continue roughing it. I wasn’t too sure if this was supposed to send a message to our host, or just because they preferred sleeping under stars? I cared about neither, so slept soundly on a comfortable bed with soft, fresh sheets. The only thing missing was one of our servers, but one very rarely gets everything they desire.
* * *
The next morning I was a little late rejoining my companions – earlier than Skuza, but that should surprise none of you by now – and it seemed I had missed some excitement in the night. A nocturnal visitor for Drazar had people a bit flustered, and it is only with hindsight that so much of the day’s strangeness now later made sense. As far I was concerned though, we were just making ready to set off, and I had spoken to my incarcerated brother, leaving him feeling decidedly positive.
We were soon on our way with little to stop is though, strapping my Basaedo back onto my left hip where it belongs. There was only a few hours of journey left to us, and we were in civilised lands, so I took grabbed hold of some ropes and let the hormorn do the hard work of covering the remaining distance for me, whistling a little as we went.
The city soon loomed up ahead of us. Tuthom-Pothrie was huge for a border city, and like all Pelosian settlements, split into two distinct areas. Regardless of our employer’s status, we would be entering through the profinarium as we had goods to sell. The man who would be dealing with the sale was a Margo man, with close ties to both sides in this conflict. When we finally made it through the final checkpoints, he greeted Skuza like an old and dear friend. And by that I mean there was a hell of a lot of piss taking and bluffing, but the boss took it in good humour. Well, either that or he was massively oblivious to what the big fellow was saying about him. And he was a big lad.
Looked tall as hell, but a lot of that was down to his bearing. He looked almost as wide too, so I doubt he was ever one to miss a meal. There was a whole bunch of merchant talk going on, and I was about as interested in that as I was in Drazar’s blistered cock, so most of us took a few minutes to ourselves. What was occupying my thoughts were slightly more worrying. I had made a bloody dangerous journey, with some decidedly unhinged individuals, for a man who attracted trouble, all for the chance to follow a woman I had fallen in love in.
And there I was, stood inside Tuthom-Pothrie with no way of finding her and, what was more troubling, no real desire to. I would have been hard pushed to describe her in detail to any citizens I met who would be willing to offer help. The face swimming in front of my mind’s eye was one made much more familiar by its recent proximity. I had come to this city to find my love, and stumbled into a different one on the way, with a formidable woman able to swing a two handed sword with ease. And I’d seen her do so while not wearing a stitch; what was there not to love? I needed something to take my mind of the subject, and it was too early to start drinking.
As it turned out, the subject of the Daemon’s prong was soon brought to light. His night time visitor was the young slip of a girl we had managed to rescue from the well, and Drazar looked like he was wanting to prolong the intimacy. Of course, there was a hell of a lot more going on than that, but at the time, I just fancied a bit of fun. I knew Fjorlief had taken the wee thing under her protection and that was definitely in factor in what came out of my mouth as I watched near enough corner the poor girl to talk.
I laid it on nice and thick, giving anyone who could hear the idea that we was trying to buy her company for an evening, and that she would certainly have better taste. I think he had wanted their conversation to take place in private, and when he heard my voice, looked over, as shocked as it’s possible to be while wearing a mask. The shock may have been down to the fact that I wasn’t alone, and soon had Caderyn and Brand joining in, with the women just looking on and laughing. I’m sure we’ll get back to what ever the hell was going on with those two eventually, but as were heckling his bedroom performance, a shout of “Murder!” came from down the hill.
Skuza had gone of to negotiate, with a warning from Valerius that no money was to change hands, and no final price was to be agreed on without his presence, but was now running back towards us whiter than usual and screaming the word over and over. I struggled to my feet, but rushing anywhere from a sitting position with near to four foot of metal strapped to your hip is never going to work the way you want it to.
I arrived to see Brand – who could move like lightening on a promise when he wanted to – and Valerius already moving into the tent that contained the corpse. I couldn’t see the body as I ran towards Skuza, who had gone into a dead faint and was laying in the dirt, but the men rushing towards us looked very much like friends of our portly middleman that the boss had just gone to see.
There was a whole lot of clamoring going on, with people calling for heads and justice, and folks running all over the damned place. What I spotted though was the people rushing towards my fallen employer. Fuck that for a game of legionnaires thinks I, and put myself in their way. By the time they had arrived, I was stood above him, and had cast my prismatic rune to baffle anyone who tried to swing at me. Although it was focused on me, I had to hope anyone looking at Skuza might be disoriented a little too.
As they closed up, one of the fuckers was determined to take justice into his own hands. I had no idea what had happened inside that tent, but if Skuza died, I wasn’t going to get paid. If I killed this bastard though, I could end up swinging myself. I dropped down low and readied for his swing. It came in quick but I instantly knew he had been taken in by the rune, so moved myself just a fraction to the right and flicked his sword away with my dagger.
I almost missed my parry though, as in the heat of the moment had forgotten that I also suffered the effects of the twisted light. I would get used to it in time, but luckily wasn’t to be tested much more that day, as our still conscious Numare shouted for calm, and for the provosts to be called. With some of the crowd already parting for the authorities to get on the scene, weapons were being lowered, and an air of calm hostility descended.
I still had Skuza on the ground though, and some sore looking prick who didn’t seem ready to let this go just yet, so I kept my Basaedo pointed at his heart, and never met my eyes break from his.